On went to Georgia for a weekend. It was my friend’s, Jodie, birthday. It was going to be a 5 day extravaganza!! I only went for 3 of the days, but the first few hours of my trip were enough to worry any mother.

The Georgian border is pretty close to Shamkir. It’s about 4 hours, maybe. I didn’t do it all in one trip, so my estimate is probably off. On Thursday, I went from Shamkir to Qazax which is the rayon (like a county) that borders Georgia. I stayed at another PCVs house there. I woke up early Friday morning to catch a bus to the Georgian border or what we call “the Red Bridge”. I think there used to be a red bridge at this border so the name has stuck. Usually my marshrutka (mini bus) trips are uneventful. Sometimes strangers strike up a conversation with me. If need be, I’ll yell at the driver. But this marshrutka trip was very different.

I get on the earliest bus from the center of Qazax. It takes about 2 hours to get to the Red Bridge. As we move along the bus starts to fill up with people. Some of the older women have lots of bags for vegetables with them. At one stop, one older woman gets off the marshrutka to buy many loaves of bread. The bus is full and people are standing. Instead of sitting in her seat, the older woman puts the bread on her seat and stands with some other people. I don’t know what was particularly offensive about this, but after a while another older fatter women makes a wise remark and adds “Don’t you know how to sit?” The woman standing was offended and yells something back. While continuing to yell, she moves the bread, sits down, and ends with “Well, your fat.” Needless to say, it did not end there. They start yelling at each other, and everyone else does their best to ignore them. The yelling gets heated, and they STAND UP to cat fight! There was batting of arms and pulling of hair in the small aisle in the cramped bus. The men move more towards the back as to not get in the way. Some of the other women try to hold the fighting women back while others verbally protest for them to stop. The driver just keeps on driving. The fighting subsides from physical violence back to yelling. The women in the marshrutka seem to pick sides. I swear it was another 30 minutes of many women yelling at each other before intensity died and one woman (not involved in the actual fight) laughed and made a joke out of it.

Finally we get to the border. Customs was a breeze, and I was through to Georgia! Only one problem: I don’t speak Georgian nor do I speak any Russian. Plus Georgian script is not in the Latin alphabet. I get to the Georgian side where there are marshrutkas and taxis waiting. I look for the sign that says Tbilisi and say “Tbilisi. Tbilisi.” I am then directed towards a marshrutka that is heading for Tbilisi.

My next problem: where do I get off? I decided to ride the bus until the end and get off there. There will probably be taxis nearby, and I’ll tell them the name of the hostel I have reservations at. Surprise problem: No taxi man has ever heard of the hostel I am staying at. I do not have the address, and even if I did it would be in Latin script which they do not read. I go inside the big building and am directed to the help desk where there are no people. The Georgian taxi man who followed me asked the security guys where the help desk people are and tells them my situation. The security guys radio to a worker that speaks some English. When he comes, I tell him my situation. No one has heard of this hostel. I ask him where the nearest internet café is so that I can look up the address. He tells me I can use his computer in his office. I follow him through a back door used by just employees, up a staircase, down a narrow hallway and into his office. (Beginning to worry about me yet?). He lets me sit down and find the website. While I’m searching for it, he offers me cherries that happen to be in his office. After finding the website, I show him the address. As he writes the address in Georgian script on a post-it-note, I eat some cherries. He then takes me down to a taxi, tells the taxi driver where I am going, and negotiates a price for me. I was very thankful for this man’s help!

The taxi takes me to the hostel, but a few minutes into my ride I figure out that I have left my backpack (with my clothes and everything) in the helpful man’s office! Yes, I’m brilliant, I know. Even though I come to this realization, I have no way of telling the driver. Charades is not good enough to explain the situation. So I sit there. We get to the hostel, and I try to explain that I need to go back. The taxi driver gives me that confused look. Instead of trying to explain more, I pay him and go into the hostel.

I find my friends fast asleep but they soon awaken to my noise. I then tell them that I need to go back to whatever place I was at (because I still had no idea). They were all still a bit sleepy, so I didn’t explain my whole eventful morning. My friend gave me her guide book, and I figured I had been at either the bus station or the train station. My friend Donna went with me to try the train station and get my bag back. It was easier traveling with Donna who had been in Tbilisi for a few days now and could get around with more ease than I. We got to the train station, and it was the right building!! I go to the floor I had been at hoping someone would recognize me. It worked. A man recognized and motioned to come with me. We went back to the office, and I grabbed my bag. Crisis adverted!

All this happened before 11 am.